Students are continuously learning and growing. In college, you’ll experience many new challenges and problems, and it’s common to experience emotional “growing pains.” It’s important to take care of yourself, especially when you’re going through something difficult. We spoke with Dr. Kristyn Neckles, Psychologist and Director of Behavioral Science Medical Education at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital, for tips on how to build resilience and practice self-care.
What is resilience?
“Resilience is an important concept for me,” begins Dr. Neckles. “The word can be misunderstood. It doesn’t mean to always push through and ignore your feelings. I believe resilience is the ability to work through difficult times as they come.”
Resilience is not meant to be constant. “I don’t believe that we are always resilient,” she continues. “It’s not all or nothing. It comes in amounts. You can be a little resilient in some situations but not others. And no matter how resilient you are today, you can become more resilient tomorrow.”
How to practice resilience
Resilience is highly valuable for students during a period of immense change and growth. Dr. Neckles explains that it helps to imagine resilience as riding a wave. “You’re working through a problem like you would surf a wave or weather a storm. Sometimes you’re standing, and sometimes you fall. Resilience is to get back up and try again.”
According to Dr. Neckles, the first step is acceptance—acknowledging when something is difficult. Next is reflection. When you “fall,” or struggle in a difficult situation, she says to ask yourself, “What do I need to manage and cope with this problem or situation?” rather than to deflect or ignore it. It may take practice to understand what you need in specific situations—whether it’s asking someone for help, setting boundaries, taking better care of yourself, or a combination of these things.
Once you “ride the wave” of a difficult situation, try to reflect on what you handled well and where you might find opportunities for growth. Dr. Neckles recommends investing time to work on skills like healthy communication, problem-solving, or time management.
Self-care and resilience
We know—life as a student is busy. But practicing self-care and resilience are important to avoid burnout. “It’s so easy to avoid self-care, but you will eventually burn out. It’s important to prioritize it and make a routine.”
Resilience goes hand-in-hand with self-care. You’re using emotional strength and getting to know yourself on a deeper level. However, as Dr. Neckles mentioned, we can’t be resilient all the time. “Practicing all forms of self-care can be helpful,” she says. “You may also need extra support.”
Talk about your problems, even if they won’t be solved. “Having someone in your life who you can talk through problems with, even if the problem feels beyond your control, can be a great thing,” Dr. Neckles explains. If you don’t have a friend or mentor like this in your life currently, your college should have a counseling center, support groups or other student communities available.
Setting goals and prioritizing can also be helpful for emotional self-care. “Each semester, set small goals to motivate yourself to keep going. At the same time, have mental flexibility—understand that some things don’t always work out the way we want them to,” advises Dr. Neckles. “I think resiliency is being able to face this reality and keep things in perspective.” For example: you may be passionate about going to medical school, but you’re having trouble passing your exams. Dr. Neckles suggests reframing your thoughts; what else are you passionate about? Consider other paths to achieve your goals.
“When we exercise, we produce endorphins, which are those really happy feelings. Research shows that 20-30 minutes of activity can go a long way for us,” says Dr. Neckles. You don’t have to go to a gym to get your body moving, either—walking, hiking and biking are just a few ways to get the benefits of exercise. Physical activity, getting enough sleep, and eating nutritious foods are all important parts of well-rounded self-care.
Self-care can look different for everyone, so it’s important to do what calls to you. Here are some ideas from Dr. Neckles:
- Positive self-affirmations
- Caring for plants
- Trying a new activity or class
- Creating something (art, music, etc.)
“Remember that you’re investing in your future self,” Dr. Neckles says. “It’s not a linear process. Give yourself grace and compassion and keep getting back up when you fall.”
Dr. Kristyn Neckles is also the founder and creator of Resilience in Becoming… Wellness Center, LLC, her private practice in Athens, OH. She offers both telehealth and in-person sessions to help clients live life authentically and fully.
About the author
College 101 is an ongoing and collaborative series between OhioHealth Marketing and Communications Interns. This article was written by our 2022-2023 intern and The Ohio State University graduate, Erica Wetzler.